More than a year after COVID-19 brought in-person worship and gatherings to a halt, Epworth United Methodist Church, Indianapolis, is experiencing a continued sense of church closeness and vitality. Epworth pastor Rodney Frieden says that last March he was immediately concerned to maintain the congregation’s worship life. “But we also knew that providing for the continued participation of small groups would be vital to keep folks connected to each other and to our congregation. Today we are now a church of both online worship and connection.”
At a recent gathering of small group facilitators, Pat Engel, Director of Adult Discipleship, celebrated the variety of meeting styles and topics that have brought people together even when they could not gather face to face.
Technology has been an important tool for the various “meet-ups,” but computer skills are not always required. A men’s Bible study meets weekly via phone conference call. Facilitator Dennis Woods says he was able to “work with what we had” to bring the group together.
Another Epworth group meets weekly using a combination of reading material and phone texting. “Sometimes that means a class session can last 24 hours,” says group member Lynn Baize. Participants read a weekly lesson, then the leader poses questions and comments via texting. Sometimes class members respond instantly; other times the discussion continues longer. Engel mentioned that one week an extra church member got included in the back and forth comments accidentally. That person found she enjoyed the experience and now is a regular.
The largest weekly small group is made up of Baby Boomers. They have only missed one Sunday morning Zoom meeting since last March. Class facilitator Karen Siebert said that greatly helped that her husband had computer experience to enable the group to jump into their weekly computer connection. Other groups have found Zoom meetings can draw a wider circle of participants including those out-of-town or even out-of-state.
The Friends of Thomas Group has continued their Wednesday night meeting book discussions on Zoom as well. Facilitator Joe Hatcher noted that the group includes one member who lives in assisted living. “When in-person visitation has been limited this past year, this man’s participation in our online group has been a weekly highlight for him,” Hatcher said.
In addition to Bible and faith topics, existing groups include those who gather for knitting and handiwork, grief groups and other shared needs and gifts. In the past year, a new group was started that met immediately after the Sunday morning online worship. The group gathered online to discuss how that day’s message applied to real life.
The connection of small groups has fueled Epworth’s online worship and allowed the members to grow spiritually and numerically during this past year.
Thank you to Cathy Hinkle for this report.